Georgia's Ethics Commission stopped in Evans last week, spending most of Friday at Columbia County's Judicial Center dealing with complaints from across the state.
"We thought it be better and get the ethics commission out into the state," said Commission Chairman Sam Nicholson. "This gives more people the opportunity to see what it is that we do."
Though commissioners spent most of their day working on complaints from across the state - including one against Gov. Sonny Perdue and another against a Hall County commissioner - they also dealt with one area issue.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to a consent order with the McDuffie County Democratic Party over money donated to Joanne Harris, a candidate for chairman of the McDuffie County Board of Commissioners.
According to the findings of the state's investigation, the party donated four times the maximum allowed amount to Harris' campaign in 2000. Harris' campaign disclosure forms showed a $3,000 donation and a $5,000 donation from the party. At the time, the maximum allowed annual contribution was $2,000, said Ethics Commission Executive Director Theodore Lee.
The commission's investigation into the donations opened in June 2002.
"These local parties, there's frequent turnover in the membership," said Lee. "The people who are there now said, 'We blew this."'
In a letter to Lee, Harris said she did not know the donations were improper.
"Please be assured that at no time did I know any contributions was limited," she wrote. "I was very careful to properly account for contributions and expenses."
As part of the consent order, the McDuffie Democratic Party paid a $500 civil penalty, Lee said.
During Friday's meeting in Thomson, officials pointed out that if the violation had occurred after Jan. 1, 2001, Harris also could have been held accountable for accepting the donation. Prior to the law change, only the group or person making the donation was punished.
"(The candidate) got to receive an illegal contribution," Nicholson said. "That could really be abused."
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